The Pakatan Harapan government under the leadership of Dr Mahathir Mohamad withdrew from the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2019 following backlash that it would affect the sovereignty of Malay rulers.
That decision now prevents Putrajaya from referring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the ICC over the Gaza conflict.
Amid calls for Malaysia to reconsider its position, former DAP assemblyperson P Ramasamy said: “Maybe it is time the genocide against the Palestinians gives rise to some sanity among the leaders in the country.
“It would be highly hypocritical for Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim to even contemplate referring Netanyahu to the ICC when Malaysia has no respect for the ICC.
“Perhaps Anwar might not admit it, but the government shot itself in the foot when it refused to sign the treaty some years back,” Ramasamy told Malaysiakini.
On April 5, 2019, Mahathir announced that Malaysia would rescind its membership after ratifying the Rome Statute a month earlier.
“We have ratified the Rome Statute (on March 4) and have until June for us to withdraw. We will act before June,” he said.
Mahathir had attributed the reversal to “misled feelings” and third-party sabotage by pitting the Malay rulers against Putrajaya.
Anwar had said then that the government wanted to avoid a confrontation with the royals although the treaty would not affect their status.
“I spoke to Mahathir. He didn’t want to prolong the issue, so he withdrew from the statute,” he said, adding that the decision was also a sign of respect to the royals.
“So, we are willing to withdraw the statute to alleviate the situation and clear up any confusion. We don’t want people to think we are at loggerheads with the Conference of Rulers,” he added.
Similarly, former DAP lawmaker Charles Santiago rued that Malaysia’s hands are tied because of the decision.
“Now, while we are screaming until we are blue in the face, we can’t do much more or we could have referred Netanyahu to the ICC for war crimes. So, unthinkingly allowing fear to cloud our decision has resulted in our hands being tied, in this instance,” he told Malaysiakini.
Therefore, Charles said it is time that policies motivated by racial supremacy are abandoned, thereby taking the nation a step closer to tackling racism as well.
“After all, this is a reformist government,” he added.
Charles also referred to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd), which the Harapan government reversed its pledge to ratify following protests by certain quarters that it would dilute Malay privileges.
“There is also a way to work in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution by ensuring that all communities that are in need will enjoy special benefits as a measure of introducing equality and equity in government policies. Ratifying Icerd only becomes a problem when a certain community is given additional perks.
“There was a lot of brouhaha concerning Icerd because of the fear that stemmed from ignorance as Icerd does recognise the concept of ‘substantive equality’ in Article 2(2).
“This means that in selective situations, the government can take special measures to ensure adequate development and protection of certain racial groups or individuals. Therefore, one can still abide by the provisions in the Federal Constitution, where the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and sultans remain protected,” he added.
Meanwhile, Free Malaysia Today quoted Charles and senior lawyer Gurdial Singh urging the government to ink the Rome Statute if it was serious about wanting to hold the Israeli leader accountable.
With countries like the United States and the United Kingdom holding veto powers in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), Gurdial said using that route would be far from ideal.
“Currently, every resolution presented in the UNSC regarding humanitarian ceasefires and similar matters is facing opposition and veto primarily because of the veto power held by the five major powers.
“Specifically, the US is exercising its veto authority to block these resolutions,” he said.
Concurring, Charles noted how the Gambia, which is an ICC member, had referred Myanmar over alleged violations of the Genocide Convention against the Rohingya people.
Responding to Foreign Minister Zambry Abdul Kadir who highlighted the ICC obstacle, Charles said: “If Zambry believes there’s a deficiency in our approach, it would be advisable to formally adopt the Rome Statute.
“Considering Anwar’s efforts to engage with Middle Eastern nations in advocating for Palestinian rights, we should take this into account,” he added.
Meanwhile, Zambry said Malaysia will continue to cooperate with OIC countries and like-minded nations so that the UN could refer the issue of Israeli atrocities not only to the ICC but to the International Court of Justice. – Malaysiakini